The big names should end up dominating the 2014 World Cup down the stretch, but it always seems as if a couple of nations surprise their respective groups early by making it into the knockout stage.
With the field nearing completion, a number of teams look poised to pester the household names and become forces to be reckoned with next summer in Brazil.
There's no guarantee that any of these teams will receive good fortune in the Dec. 6 draw, and it's impossible to tell who could advance until then. Still, expect these teams to exceed expectations and prove to be contenders in the round of 16 and perhaps beyond.
FIFA world rankings courtesy of FIFA.com.
The small African country surprised many in the 2010 World Cup, advancing to the quarterfinal stage and coming one penalty shootout short of getting into the semis.
Although they'll face small odds again, No. 23 world ranked Ghana are poised for a repeat performance heading into Brazil.
Ghana's offensive firepower overwhelmed Egypt in the first leg of their playoff, racking up a 6-1 advantage and before sputtering to a 2-1 loss in Cairo on Tuesday. They already did their damage and put the bid on cruise control after one leg.
Whether it's Sulley Muntari or Asamoah Gyan, this national team boasts plenty of players who have been on the big stage many times and know the stakes.
Ghana has a heap of talent offensively and a number of players who are capable of shredding their opponents one on one. That matched up well on the big stage in 2010, and it will do so again given they get a favorable draw.
The Russians currently sit at No. 19 in the world rankings, and they may very well be a favorite in their group should they receive a fortunate draw.
However, it's been a tough road to prominence. After failing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and being bounced in the group stage at 2012 Euro, Russia made way for Fabio Capello to enter as head coach.
Capello quickly got to work and has turned Russia into an international powerhouse overnight, tapping the potential in this lineup and building momentum and confidence. That resulted in the Russians topping Portugal in Group F and securing a World Cup bid.
Alan Dzagoev is ready to break out on the biggest stage of his career. The 23-year-old will head up a formidable attack featuring Alexander Kerzhakov and Dmitriy Kombarov that is continuing to produce.
If Russia fulfills their potential, they could go further than just the group stage.
After disposing of their competition in Africa, Ivory Coast find their way into another World Cup with high hopes.
They're just hoping for better luck this time.
In 2010, Ivory Coast headed into South Africa as one of few home-continent nations in the field and loaded up on talent. Then, they drew both Brazil and Portugal in their group and were beaten out for second by Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. by just one point.
They're in good shape for this upcoming summer, at No. 17 in the world. They are led by a heap of stars up front who have been there before in Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou.
Central defender Kolo Toure and midfielder Yaya Toure help to anchor a lineup that is as good up front as it is in the back.
Ivory Coast have been building toward 2014 for some time, with their best players aging (Drogba is 35). Expect one heck of a push from them.
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